The medieval, walled city of Carcassonne is exactly what comes to mind when you think of classic fairytales. With its crenellations, cone-shaped roof tops, and spiky turrets, Carcassonne poses dramatically for the classic panoramic shot from a distance. Films have been shot in this fortified city, and even a popular board game bases itself in the setting of Carcassonne. However, everyone knows about Carcassonne. Reviewers and guidebooks warn that Carcassonne can be a tourist hell, as it attracts an annual 4+ million visitors! I stressed over whether or not we should see Carcassonne on our way from Barcelona to The French Riviera, and in the end, we got a glimpse of the city.
Our brief visit to Carcassonne was worth the effort due to three reasons:
- May meant the shoulder season.
- We arrived at 3:30pm, after all the tour buses have left.
- We easily found free parking. Parking around the city walls was a griping €20, and parking in the downtown area would have been a logistical nightmare. Plenty of free parking existed in the residential neighborhoods just north of the medieval city, across the main street of Avenue du General Leclerc.
We arrived to a quiet Carcassonne, apparently a rare occurrence for the typically touristy city. The massive parking lots were empty, and all lines were vacant. As the sun was making its way down, we were able to observe the bright sun lighting up the city walls which made our tourist-free visit an enchanting one. While strolling in and around the city was free, it cost €10 to enter the Château et Rempart. Naturally, we just enjoyed the fee-free areas.
Although the exterior was strikingly beautiful, I found the medieval interior too fabricated and catered toward tourists. The lesser known, more authentic medieval town of Dinan in Brittany was absolutely more stunning and adorable than Carcassonne’s.
And finally, perhaps the best view of Carcassonne. Visitors must cross the bridge on the western side of the city to catch this beautiful view, specifically right before sunset.
Once again, we enjoyed another one of many day trips en route from one major city to the next. I can’t imagine how hellish it might feel when the city is packed with tourists, but on a late afternoon in the shoulder season, it was glorious.