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Carcassonne Castle France – La Cité de Carcassonne

In southern France’s Languedoc region, you will find La Cité de Carcassonne – The City of Carcassonne.

A magnificent medieval walled city and one of France’s most famous monuments.

We have mixed feelings about the walled city of Carcassonne. Admittedly, when the double-walled impenetrable fortress with its 52 watchtowers suddenly appears, it is impressive, in a Disney fairytale castle kind of way.

Le Cite de Carcassonne, France

Then, as you arrive at the site and navigate your way into the very organised, overpriced parking, you begin to realise the sheer volume of tourists you are about to encounter. You also begin to wonder if you have arrived at a film set, not a UNESCO site.

Le Cite de Carcassonne, France

The History of Carcassonne

Carcassonne dates back to 100 Bc when Romans first fortified the hilltop. Major additions and modifications were made throughout the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries resulting in a very impressive, self-sufficient and impenetrable citadel. A city within a city.

The City of Carcassonne

The city survived countless battles, abandonment of fortifications after the treaty of the Pyrenees and even an order of demolition by Napolean. Despite the odds, Carcassonne underwent a massive restoration project commencing in 1853.

The project met with a lot of criticism.  The fortified city was in such disrepair some creative licence was needed for the architectural design. Regardless, the final product has been hailed as a work of genius and given the final nod by UNESCO. This is why the Disneyesque fortified city attracts nearly 4 million visitors each year.

The City of Carcassonne

Inside the Fortified City of Carcassonne

Should we have mixed feelings about such an impressive monument that attracts so many visitors?

Once you come to terms with the fact this is not really a Disney castle or medieval film set and you wander into the narrow city streets, it really is very impressive. Sure, it’s still touristy but it’s kind of exciting to think Carcassonne is still an active, functioning city.

The City of Carcassonne

Le Cite de Carcassonne, France

Meander down the narrow city streets, past the souvenirs and “Ye Olde World” themed shops. Hustle through the throngs of tourists and school groups and you will stumble out of the medieval maze onto gorgeous city squares.

Stylish clothes stores with hefty price tags, boutique hotels, cafe’s and white linen restaurants stand side by side with postcard racks and plastic medieval weapons for sale.

The City of Carcassonne

Things to do in Carcassonne

Here is part of our conundrum. While the city is clearly aimed at busloads of quick stop tourists spending a buck on medieval trinkets, there is also a certain style of establishment and business which appears to be aimed at the more astute, longer-term visitor. Day-trippers or locals with a long and relaxed lunch in mind.

The City of Carcassonne

This gave us the impression La Cité de Carcassonne is much more than a tourist destination and must cater to locals and travellers alike. Perhaps there would even be a lively social scene after the buses had left for the day.

Unfortunately, we think once the tourists have left there is very little activity within the walls of the medieval city, save for special events and festivals.

The City of Carcassonne

Staying in Carcassonne

So what would be the merit in staying within the walls at one of the quaint guesthouses or quite exclusive hotels such as Hôtel de la Cité in Carcassonne? Perhaps to have the meandering lanes to yourself for an evening, or to enjoy the silhouettes of the watchtowers against the night sky.

The City of Carcassonne

Possibly in the peak of summer, you could stroll the lanes in the evenings and enjoy the atmosphere of restaurants and cafes brimming onto the streets. The atmosphere of a historical city that is still alive, although we are yet to hear anything to support this. 

Was there a vision for the future of this ancient city that has not yet been quite realised?

Le Cite de Carcassonne, France

Le Cite de Carcassonne, France

Walk the City Ramparts

While entry into the city is free, you must pay to enter the castle and walk the ramparts. Approx €8 per adult. This is something you really must do if you are to make the effort to visit Carcassonne.

Again, you will feel you have stepped onto a film set but will soon appreciate the enormity of the walled city and what it must have been like to live during medieval times. This is an experience to bring the inner child out in us all. From the ramparts, you can also appreciate some very scenic views.

Le Cite de Carcassonne, France

Day Trips and Tours to Carcassonne

All in all, a day trip to Carcassonne is fun. In the height of tourist season be prepared for long queues and the city streets to be quite congested. The downside to Carcassonne is there is not much else worth seeing in the area.

We were already close by in the Ariege Department of the Midi-Pyrenees so it was not much hassle to make the two trips to La Cité de Carcassonne. We couldn’t find the enormous castle on the first trip. Go figure!

 

Le Cite de Carcassonne, France

If you are a huge fan of the popular Carcassonne board and computer games, created for the walled city or a fan of Kate Mosse’s book Labyrinth set in Carcassonne Le Cite de Carcassonne will be a must visit. However, we believe the south of France has many beautiful castles, especially the Cathar Castles in the Languedoc and Ariege regions to keep you happy without having to make the detour or endure the crowds.

If you do decide to make the trip, we have it on good authority the Haunted House is worth the entry fee. We bypassed this as a cheap tourist trap but later found out this is an experience that will have grown adults fleeing white-faced onto the street.

Carcassonne Opening Hours

The walled city of Carcassonne is always open as it is a functioning city. The Castle and Ramparts are open every day as per the following hours.

  • 2 January – 31 March & 1 October – 31 December | Every day from 09.30 – 17.00
  • 1 April – 30 September | Every day from 10.00 – 18.30
  • Allow 45 minutes before closing for last admission.
  • Battlements close 30 min before closing.

Entry to the Castle and Ramparts: €9.00

 

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Flashpacker Family

Wednesday 21st of September 2016

Carcassonne looks absolutely beautiful. We are planning a canal boat trip next year through this region of France and Carcassonne is on the itinerary. It looks magical.

Vagrants Of The World

Thursday 22nd of September 2016

Enjoy guys. A canal boat trip is something that has been on our radar for some time. Perhaps next summer we will finally do it.

Tami

Saturday 16th of April 2016

Loved our first visit to Carcassonne six years ago, and then another quick drive by a few weeks ago. Your photos are incredibly beautiful--and I am just a little jealous!)--but so grateful to relive my memories through your post!

Vagrants Of The World

Sunday 17th of April 2016

Thank you Tami.

Carcassonne and the south of France in general, is such a beautiful part of the world, I am not surprised you revisited. We hope to return again next year.

Cameron

Friday 1st of April 2016

Love these photos! It looks like it's straight out of a fairytale.

Vagrants Of The World

Saturday 2nd of April 2016

Thanks Cameron. I don't think even Disney could match this on the fairytale stakes!

Kaylene Chadwell

Tuesday 29th of March 2016

Wow, amazing photos! I'm going to the south of France later this year for a wedding, may just have to take a stop here!

Vagrants Of The World

Tuesday 29th of March 2016

Thank you so much Kaylene. Have a wonderful time in France and enjoy Carcassonne if you do stop by.

Miia

Tuesday 29th of March 2016

Touristic or not, I NEED to get there. How have I been able to miss adding this to my bucket list?! Me, who loves castles and medieval towns. Shame on me. This article with its stunning photos got me to do it right away. :)

Vagrants Of The World

Tuesday 29th of March 2016

Miia, your enthusiasm is infectious. Carcassonne is an absolute must for the castle enthusiast. Pop it on the list!