Located on the banks of the River Tarn, Albi is a charming French city. The Episcopal City, located in the area around the Saint Cecilia Cathedral, has even earned its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is easily visited on a day trip from Toulouse for those short on time but also makes for a great weekend getaway. The city is packed full of character and the jaw-dropping cathedral has to be seen to be believed! If you are headed to the south of France, I urge you to squeeze in a visit to Albi.
Things to do in Albi
Perhaps the best way to explore is Albi is on foot, going where the wind takes you. The city is full of picturesque back streets and tiny sun traps which act as the perfect place to enjoy a cold pint of Leffe!
However, for those on very limited time, get the most of your visit to Albi by stopping first in the tourist information centre in the middle of the Old Town. The English speaking staff are very helpful and can suggest the best things to see, do and places to eat. It is also possible to pick up an informative map from here which details all of the local walking routes. See this page for more information about the Albi city pass which allows you to get discounts on tourist attractions.
There are three main routes around the city, ranging from 45 minutes to an hour. The first of these is the historic centre trail which takes you around the Old Town’s most notable attractions, including the cathedral. This is the ‘must-do’ loop which takes around 45 minutes, however, there is lots to stop and look at on the way!
The riverbank and districts circuit takes around an hour to walk and is a beautiful route for taking in the sights of the historic city from a new angle. Many of the photos you see when you Google Albi were taken along this route and most often, from the viewpoint over the other side of the river. This photo point goes by the French name ‘le panorama d’Albi d’hier à aujourd’hui’.
The urban development circuit is probably the least appealing of the three routes, mainly because it takes you around the new areas of the city which are much less picturesque. Despite this, it does provide a good contrast to the Albi that you so often see on postcards.
Saint Cecilia Cathedral
This gothic cathedral is considered to be the largest brick-built cathedral in the world. It is the most visited site in the Episcopal City and one of the huge draws of the area. It lacks many of the design features traditionally seen in cathedrals, instead appearing at first glance to look more like a fortress or citadel.
The cathedral is the focal point of the city which is no surprise when you consider that the bell tower alone stands at 78 metres high! This cathedral is a very obvious statement of power from the Roman Catholic Church.
Whilst the outside of the building is undoubtedly impressive, the inside is potentially even more so. Intricate carvings, geometric patterns and grandiose artwork are almost too much for the eye to take in!
Costs: Entrance into the cathedral is free however, this does not include the optional audio guide which comes at an additional cost. Choir entry is an additional €5.
Monday – Saturday: 9.30 am – 6.00 pm
Sunday: 9:30a m – 10:15 am & 1:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Aside from the mighty cathedral, Albi is best known for being the birthplace for famous artist and painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. As you would expect, the city is very proud of this association and they have their own museum which showcases the work of Toulouse-Lautrec.
Toulouse-Lautrec is most famous for his posters and paintings depicting the Moulin Rouge cabaret. Many of his notable works are on display in the museum which is located in the Palace of the Berbie. Regardless of whether or not you are interested in the artist, it is well worth popping into the museum because of its incredible setting.
The Palace of the Berbie was originally built as a residence for the bishop and was meant to act as a symbol of the power of the city. The palace is home to some incredible gardens too which can be accessed for free.
Costs: It costs €9 per adult to enter the permanent exhibitions at the museum. This cost is included in the Albi city pass. Audio guides are available for an additional €4 and come in French, English, Spanish and German. Visitors can explore the grounds of the museum for free which is highly encouraged.
During peak season (21st June-30th Sep): Every day: 9.00 am – 6.00 pm.
Outside of peak season, opening times vary, with the museum being closed for two hours for lunch.
Pont Vieux Bridge
Aside from the cathedral, this bridge is potentially the most iconic of Albi’s landmarks. The Pont Vieux Bridge quite literally translates to ‘Old Bridge’ in English. It offers some incredible views of the cathedral and the city. The riverbank and districts circuit takes you across Pont Vieux Bridge which is a great opportunity to take photos.
Anybody who has ever visited France knows that this is a country hugely proud of its food! Albi is no different and visitors should not miss the open-air farmers market. It takes place every Tuesday and Saturday in the morning on Place Fernand Pelloutier. Don’t forget your tote bag as you peruse organic fruit and veg, delicious cheese and other farm foods.
Tuesdays & Saturdays: 7.00 am – 1.00 pm.
Next to the open air farmer’s market, head into the covered market for pastries, wine and a food court where you can sit down and eat.
Tuesdays – Sundays: 7.00 am – 2.00 pm
In my opinion, the cute little neighbourhood of Place Savène may just be the most idyllic part of Albi. It is a small square in the old town, full of quintessentially French residences. On a beautiful day, when the flowers are in bloom and the shutters are open, it would be criminal not to enjoy a few minutes taking in the view.
Albi has some great restaurants which serve a range of local specialities, including the controversial foie gras and French onion soup. If you are on a budget, make sure to check out the ‘menu du jour’ which is the set menu for the day. It usually includes three courses and there are some great deals to be had!
I personally loved Restaurant La Temporalite, close to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. Not only was I able to get the set menu for a very reasonable price but the food was to die for. I definitely recommend the confit duck, it’s delicious!
Saint-Salvi Cloister Garden
This tranquil paradise is a welcome escape from the crowds around the markets. The Saint-Salvi Collegiate is the oldest church in Albi and the monks who created the cloister garden wanted to use this space to grow medicinal herbs and plants.
There are information panels detailing which plants in the garden are edible. The garden is a sun trap which makes it a great place to relax and catch a few rays on a nice day with good weather.
Costs: Free entry
Every day: 7.00 am – 8.00 pm.
Getting to Albi
Albi is located northeast of Toulouse, around 85 km away. It is easily reached by train from the Toulouse Matabiau train station. The journey takes around an hour and the approximate cost for a return ticket is around €13. Albi Ville is the main train station and it is around a 15-minute walk from there into the Old Town.
There is a daily train service from Paris which heads to Albi. The city can also be reached in around 2 hours 30 minutes from both Lourdes and Montpellier via car.
Where to stay in Albi
Although many visit Albi on a day trip, it is a beautiful place to spend longer. If you are considering an overnight stay, check out these accommodation options. There is something to suit every budget!
Located in the centre of Albi, this beautiful hotel is a great budget option for couples. Rooms are ensuite with free WiFi and air conditioning. Although breakfast is not included in the price, it can be added on for an additional fee, however, there are plenty of great patisseries in the area if you’d rather get breakfast out!
Just a 10 minute walk from the historical centre, and opposite the train station, this hotel boasts an outdoor swimming pool and table tennis! There is also an on-site restaurant and bar which makes getting traditional French food a breeze.
All of the 56 rooms come with their own private bathroom, either with shower or bathtub. Secure parking for a reasonable price is available close by. A great choice for those looking to sightsee and stay somewhere comfortable with a few more luxuries.
Situated in the heart of Albi, this art deco hotel is perfect for those looking for an elegant and tasteful stay. Free WiFi is available and each room comes with a minibar, air conditioning and a coffee machine.
The rooms are large and spacious as are the private bathrooms. They come with hairdryers and bathrobes. There is also laundry service and luggage storage available. The price is a little steep but you will want for nothing if you stay at Hôtel Alchimy!
*All times correct at the time of writing.
Have you visited Albi?