Toulon is a port city on France’s Mediterranean coast, with Cannes to its east and Marseille to its west. It’s best known for its rugby, extensive naval base and harbour and rugged Provencal landscape nearby. Read on for Culture Trip’s pick of the top 10 things to see and do during your trip to Toulon.
It’s easy to see why this cable car ride up to Mount Faron is one of Toulon’s main attractions. Inaugurated in July 1959, the iconic red car transports tens of thousands of visitors to 584 metres of altitude each year, with the final view being a breathtaking panorama of Toulon and the Mediterranean Sea beyond. The shuttle departs every 10 minutes, is free for under fours and prices start at a reasonable €5.50. There are hiking trails all over Mount Faron, so once at the top, why not pick one up for a more leisurely wander.
Toulon is a Mediterranean port city and its harbour (Toulon is also host to a military harbour just adjacent) is an attractive setting for a wander, spotting the various yachts and fishing boats and stopping at the various harbour-side eateries for a chilled glass of something and a bite of local cuisine. The ambiance at nighttime, especially during the warmer months, is hard to beat. If you want to explore the harbour from the water, you can catch the Réseau Mistral boat that crosses its middle.
A set of four, sandy beaches a stone’s throw from the centre of Toulon, the most easterly of which is particularly attractive dotted with palm trees and with a Mediterranean vegetation backdrop. A selection of beach-side restaurants edge the sand and the views across to the undulating hills are beautiful. A large free play area backs onto these beaches, perfect for keeping the little ones amused. There are also some paid activities, such as crazy golf, too.
Toulon’s Hôtel des Arts is the Mediterranean Center of Art and free for visitors to explore. It is a gorgeous heritage building of Toulon, light and airy not too far from the train station and yet tranquil even during the summer months. Whatever your opinion on modern art, this space will intrigue and delight with its ever-changing exhibitions.
A real highlight when visiting Toulon. Musée Mémorial du Débarquement is a World War II fortress perched high above Toulon on Mont Faron, commemorating the Allied landing of August 1944 and paying tribute to the liberation of Provence. Inside, there is an extensive collection of period objects and externally, visitors can see replicas of an anti-tank gun, an anti-aircraft gun, and a Sherman tank. A side note, the views are simply fantastic from here and also nearby are the zoo and Notre-Dame-du-Faron chapel, well worth the visit, too, if you have time to spare afterwards.
Accessed by a footbridge, Toulon’s Tour Royale is perched right on the Mediterranean in all its glory, whilst still partly built into the natural rock. Listed as an “historic monument” since 1947, it is a real favourite must-see in Toulon as the first fortification of the naval harbour of Toulon, dating back to the 16th century. The 3.5 hectares of grounds surrounding the fort are delightful and worth exploring after you’ve delved within the fortress’ walls. During the summer this historic fort plays host to a number of music, dance and general festivals.
Toulon’s bustling, colourful Cours Lafayette Market is the largest outdoor market in the area and takes place from early morning until lunchtime most days of the week (except for Monday and other exceptional days). Food in France is very seasonal and so take note of the produce on offer here as it’s a sign of the months changing. For example, in the summer months, you’ll notice masses of nectarines and peaches, whereas when the weather cools, you’ll see baskets of leaks and cabbages. As well as food at the Cours Lafayette Market , you’ll find flowers, local products and clothes and small home furnishings.
Rugby is the most popular team sport in France and is almost considered a religion in the South of France, so embedded is it in the culture. Toulon’s club is one of the leading teams and its stadium is well worth a visit for rugby fans and general Toulon visitors alike. Even better, try and visit when a match is on. However, you can still explore it when the team isn’t at home. This Mediterranean rugby stadium is only a stone’s throw from Toulon harbour and its supporters are passionate, adding to the incredible atmosphere in and around the stadium on match days.
Beautiful opera house right in the centre of Toulon. Even if opera isn’t your thing, it’s worth detouring to the Boulevard de Strasbourg to have a look at the beautiful facade of France’s second largest opera house. It’s built in the style of Second Empire architecture (a mix of Baroque and evolved 7th-century Renaissance) and occupies a privileged spot in the historic centre overlooking a pretty Mediterranean square. There is a full schedule of performances, so make sure to book well in advance in the summer months if you’re hoping to see a concert.
A rich and beautifully fronted museum, charting Toulon’s maritime history and the role of the navy throughout the centuries. The museum features permanent collections as well as seasonal exhibitions and there are free audio guides available in English to accompany your visit. The impressive door of the museum is the original gate of the arsenal, dating back to 1738 and internally the museum is easily accessible and spacious. For a city inextricably linked to its waters, it is a must-visit in Toulon.
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