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The Cite de Carcassonne castle in the Languedoc region of France has for a long time been on my travel bucket list.
Some say it’s incredibly spectacular, while others say it’s a tourist trap. What to believe?
Well, I had the opportunity to cross it off my personal travel bucket list last year and to make my own decision on whether or not it’s worth a visit.
Cite de Carcassonne castle – City or Castle?
But first things first. Is it a city or a castle? Well both, really. Cité de Carcassonne is one of the most famous European fortified cities, created in the department of Aude, in the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon which is in the Southern part of France sharing a border with Spain. The Langedoc-Roussillon region is actually now referred to as Occitanie. La Cité, as the fortified medieval city is commonly known, includes a castle (the Château Comtal) and a basilica (the Basilica of St. Nazaire).
This is a view of La Cite from the lower, modern town of Carcassonne.
This impressive fortress has 3 km of a double line of ramparts surrounding it and a total of 52 towers. La Cite is inhabited by only 100 full time residents and is also a World Heritage Site.
Spectacular or Touristy?
Carcassonne has been on my travel bucket list for a long time because I am a hopeless castle hound. One look at an image of this place many years ago did it. I had to visit one day. But as I began researching my visit last year, I realized that not everyone thought it was as cool as I did. I noticed that some people called it “touristy”, which is not my favorite thing. So I couldn’t wait to see what all the hubbub was about….both positive and negative.
In retrospect, I see that the way my visit happened definitely set me up to have the best possible impression of Carcassonne, and it was all by accident.
You see, we arrived by train. We were on a little weekend getaway from our winter apartment in Girona, Spain. When we arrived in Carcassonne and got out of the train station, it didn’t look anything like I expected. The image above is what I had in my mind, and since the Carcassonne train station is in the lower, modern town of Carcassonne we couldn’t see anything that looked remotely like the La Cite that I was expecting. Not a concern at that point. I knew my hotel was in the Medieval center of La Cite, so we headed outside to find a taxi.
Great idea, but there were none. First train station I think I’ve been at where there were no taxis.
So we consulted the lady who lives inside our phone. One of our favorite travel companions….our Google assistant!
Looked like it was a 30-minute walk. OK, we’ve got backpacks and all our stuff, but we can absolutely do that. So off we went.
I must say, that my first glimpse of the view in the image above was breathtaking.
But, then a peculiar thing happened.
Surely, This Cannot Be the Entrance
The Google walking directions (because they send you via the shortest route) sent us up an ancient, steep, wet, slippery and sometimes dark back staircase to La Cite. It looked something like this. Not as easy a climb as it could have been while carrying full backpacks and some other gear. Surely this couldn’t be the entrance to a well-visited World Heritage historic site, could it?
Well, upon our arrival at the top of the stairs (which was a long way up), we found ourselves in an amazing medieval fortress that couldn’t have been closer to the vision I had in my mind of what the place was supposed to look like. I felt like I was transported back to the time of King Arthur and Camelot.
It was an amazing experience to be able to hang out here for a few days and just soak up the history.
Here I am, walking the ramparts. It was a bit chilly and blustery.
And just a few more pics to make sure you don’t miss how cool this place is!
Is Carcassonne Spectacular or Touristy – My Conclusion
SPECTACULAR for sure! In my opinion, the Cite de Carcassonne castle is definitely worth a visit.
I will admit, however, that had I arrived via the real entrance rather than the very treacherous but very atmospheric back stone stairway, I would have understood the comments from the people who said “touristy”. The walkway from the main entrance does have some very touristy trinket shops which could be a turn off if that’s the first thing you see when you arrive. I was saved from that remember…despite the fact that I almost broke my neck climbing the treacherous, slippery stairs.
So Where Is the Real Entrance?
No, the stairs shown above are absolutely not the main entrance.
The main entrance to Carcassonne is actually the Porte Narbonnais here…
Complete with parking areas and people!
Things To Do In Carcassonne
If you like to visit castles and historical places, Carcassonne is just simply a visual treat. It is relatively small, so you can easily cover the entire Cite in a day if you want. But one of my favorite things to do is to just relax, stroll around and take some time to soak up the incredible history. That being said, I do think it’s important to actually learn about the history of Carcassonne while you’re there.
For that reason I would suggest taking a walking tour while you’re there. That way, you’ll have a guide that will explain everything to you and you’ll really come away from your visit with a true sense of what Carcassonne was all about throughout the years past.
Here is a list of available Carcassone tours, including some great walking tours of Carcassonne.
Carcassonne Hotels In the Walled City
While Carcassonne isn’t that big and you could do a day trip if you’re already in the area, I recommend staying overnight so that you can have more time there.
I stayed for a weekend (2 nights) and that seemed just about right. There are plenty of hotel options in the area, but my #1 recommendation is to stay inside the Cite itself, which means inside the old city walls. Many of the hotels in and around Carcassonne are in the new town, and the surrounding area, not inside the city walls. You definitely won’t have the best experience if you don’t stay inside the Cite.
These are the Carcassonne hotels in the walled city, and I can highly recommend them both.
Pictures truly do not do justice to Carcassonne. It’s just hard to grasp the reality of what it looks like until you’ve been there. Here’s a video that might help.
Who’s visited La Cite de Carcassonne castle?
Let me know what your conclusion was….spectacular or touristy?