A family trip to the French Castle of Carcassonne
When someone says French castle, what image does your mind paint? A scary grotesque bulky pile of old stones or a fairytale chateau? Now, imagine a massive medieval citadel surrounded by high doubled walls that were built for one and only purpose — to protect its citizens, somewhere back in the 13th century.
Meet Carcassonne – a not your typical French castle – the fortress one of a kind
You probably wonder where in the world this place is. Well, if you are a big sucker for anything medieval like myself, you’d make your research just like I did and you would have found this: Cite de Carcassonne – the largest fortified city in Europe ( and the World’s Heritage site by UNESCO ). Speaking in plain English, it is a whole preserved medieval city inside the fortress. Whoa! Impressive, right? Wait till you see it!
Who goes to Europe and doesn’t visit at least one castle? ( well, it’s not like they are hard to find LOL ). Not me! I specifically looked for a castle that’d be on the way from France to Spain. Guess what? I found the biggest fortress. I know, I am good. Don’t bother with Google for your next trip, just ask me.
The Cite is incredible! Actually, we got to walk it twice ( just because some clumsy member of this family thought we had lost our bag , so yep, we got to go in the second time around and walk all the way through – only to find the bag in the outside cafe where we had breakfast before the entrance to the castle and where it was promptly picked up by the staff and hidden for us to come back ). So I can honestly say we have been to Carcassonne Castle TWICE.
We arrived in Carcassonne by train from Nice. The town does have own small airport but if you are touring around Europe as we did, trains are the most efficient transport. We booked train tickets online via The man in seat 61 website, downloaded App Loco2 to a cell phone which both were a blessing to our journey!
This small country town was the end of our France journey, sadly, but probably the most anticipated. I was itching to finally see a French castle! Who wouldn’t be?
Although the town seemed to be sleepy and quite rural, the public transport system was efficient. If you are not in a hurry, buses by far the cheapest way to get around. I think it was about 1,5 Euro each. Otherwise, taxis will find you everywhere in town.
Booking accommodation in Carcassonne
Now, this was the real tease for me—do I splash on a hotel inside the La Cite or do I save our pennies to give ourselves a room for extra buys? If you know me, you guessed the answer. We chose to save. But if we to do it all over again, I swear, we would splash all right.
Here is why. The hotel was on the other side of the town, quiet remotely located but great for those who arrive by plane, it’s very close to the local airport. The room was way too small. Hello, we have been to many places before coming here and way bigger more popular ones too but the prices here weren’t exactly matching the remoteness? So, we had a hard-ish time reserving anything affordable that’d fit into the budget. This hotel had to do, after all, it was for two nights only, come, crush and sleep.
Even though our morning on the day of exploring the castle started late and lazy, we still found the need of getting to the Cite quite time-consuming. On the positive note, the walk across the river’s old bridge that took us to the fortress was a highlight of the excursion.
Therefore, do yourself a favor. Reserve a family room in a nice hotel located in the Citadel — follow the Booking.com link. Pick a real treat for your family. Go on, we only live once! Trust me on my experience, you will love quaint streets bustling with cafes, charming art shops, medieval style of graffiti and more importantly, the view of the Fortress day in day out. After all, hello, how many people you know that have ever stayed in a medieval town?
Touring the castle
The Castle and its Remparts opening times:
2 JANUARY TO 31 MARCH Open every day 9.30-17.00
1ST APRIL TO 30 SEPTEMBER Open every day 10.00-18.30
1ST OCTOBER TO 31 DECEMBER Open every day 9.30-17.00
The official website is www.remparts-carcassonne.fr/en/
Kids will undeniably love it! If they won’t learn from this experience, well, they won’t stand a chance in life. Oh, and they are FREE!
The Entrance. You have two options: buy tickets on-site or online. It’s very inexpensive — under AU $15 or 9 Euro per adult, there is no real difference between online – offline prices but trust my word, the online purchase will save you a headache of getting in! Pick your desirable tour via Get Your Guide tours I have posted above. We did. The company is trustworthy, I booked every single European tour with them.
My thoughts on whether you should take a guided tour? I love them, I honestly do but in a place like this, I prefer to take my own time, see what I want and just read what’s printed on the tour brochure. After all, it’s not hard to find out facts about the place.
With our online tickets uploaded in the Get Your Guide for Andriod, we went straight through the gates within minutes. While everyone was lining up to buy theirs.
The Gates and Security. Firstly, at the front gates, prepare for the security checkup:
- have your bags open if you carry any
- instruct kids on what’s going to happen
- get your tickets ready for scanning
- smile, say Bon Jour and move quickly in line
Once you passed, head towards the office, scan tickets and off you go exploring.
Fitness tips. Prepare to walk for a few hours — it’s made of steps and …more steps! It’s a fortress for Goodness sake. That’s how they built them.
The journey begins through the gift shop and takes visitors to the video room where you can sit down to watch a 15 mins film on the history of the French castle. The movie runs every 10 mins.
From there, you are free to explore the amazing recreation of the fortress and its ramparts. Every room is full of artifacts, also every part of the place has a description of what it was used for and how it served.
Undoubtedly, wandering around the rooms, witnessing so much history is overwhelming! Taking these memories to treasure forever is a lifetime experience!
” Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children. ” Charles R. Swindoll
Make some time to spend in the Notre Dame de Carcassonne or Saint Nazarius. The cathedral is magnificent! While we were in there, a choir from Azerbaijan was visiting – what’s the odds of that! Their singing was angelic, I was in tears.
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the beauty of medieval architecture and glass mosaics.
Finally, Carcassonne isn’t just the Castle. It has its own vineyards producing a lovely authentic French wine —you can buy it inside the gift shop or in the Cite outside the walls.
To finish our tour we went for a stroll along the Cite’s alleyways through gift and lolly shops, cafes and wine boutiques. We were hungry, exhausted but ultimately happy.
So this concluded our marvelous French Castle encounter. I had fun sorting through photos and the notes that I took as each and every one of them brings back endless memories of our family’s happiest moments. To add to that I’d like to visit every possible castle, fortress, or a chateau in Europe but am afraid, I’d need my whole life to finish the project. Share your favorite castle experience or perhaps your future plans to visit one.
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