Toulon is the third biggest city in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region after Marseille and Nice. The harbour, as old as Ancient Greece, is the town’s crown jewel. Thanks to its exceptional natural environment Toulon is France’s only natural harbour combining naval and land defence posts. Ideally placed at the foot of Mount Faron, it is typically Provencal and loaded with lots of charm. Here is my selection of the best things to do in Toulon.
Visit the Old Town
Old Toulon, with its fountains and olive trees, is wonderfully Provencal. Stroll the pedestrian areas of downtown, filled with large squares and shady streets. The market is full of fruits and vegetables. You can taste the harvest of small producers, who display locally and sustainably grown fruits and vegetables. The city is home to a varied selection of contemporary art. Don’t miss Rue d'Alger so that you can see butterfly decorations over your head. Keep an eye out for street art everywhere.
Have a cup of coffee next to Opera House
A historical monument designed by architect Leon Feuchere was inaugurated in 1862. Its neoclassical features include a facade of arches, giant grey and pink colonnades, and a pediment that gives it the look of an ancient sanctuary. Opera House can accommodate more than 1,300 spectators in its luxurious auditorium. The Opera offers classical performances like La Traviata, Tosca, and Cosi fan Tutte, as well as masterpieces of French lyrical music and operettas, all performed by world-class singers.
Walk around Place de la Liberte
This vast square forms the hub of the city and is bordered by a cinema, theatre, cafés, restaurants, and major stores. The magnificent facade of the Grand Hotel built in the late 19th century, now home to the new Theatre Liberte, provides a perfect backdrop to the dramatic late 19th century Fountain of the Federation, an impressive artwork with triumphant sculptures and splashing jets of water.
Take a picture with statues of the Card Game
Born in Toulon in 1883, Jules Muraire or Raimu began his career as a comedian. Later he became a hero of Pagnol’s famous “Trilogy” film series. Three monuments are dedicated to the well-known artist in Toulon, including this sculpture of Pagnol’s famous Card Game on Place Raimu Square, where visitors can pose for a photo in one of the free chairs opposite cheating Cesar and Panisse!Continue your way to Place Monsenergue where you can see and visit several interesting objects including Clock Tower, Abandoned boats installation and National Maritime Museum of Toulon. So here you go!
Look at the Clock Tower
Located inside the walls of the naval base, the clock tower is visible from the main entrance of the base. Built at the end of the 18th century, it was originally used as a lookout post, while the clock housed in the bell tower announced the start and end of the working day.
Visit the National Maritime Museum of Toulon
Created at the end of the First Empire, under the reign of Napoleon the National Maritime Museum of Toulon is located next to the Clock Tower of the arsenal. Ship models, paintings and other artefacts retrace the military past of a strategically important port.
Have a look at abandoned boats installation
It is called “Displacement”. It is the structure of stranded boats that had been installed by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata in front of the Naval Museum and the naval base. Seven boats with faded and worn hulls were recovered and then arranged into a complex. Unfortunately, the abandoned boats are a source of pollution in the harbour.
Visit Church Saint-François de Paule
Built in the middle of the 18th century, Church Saint-François de Paule is located next to the harbour of Toulon. The former chapel of the Récollets convent has a nave extended by a choir with a flat apse. The aisles are surmounted by a large tribune that runs on three sides. The church layout is unique in France. If the interior is almost austere classicism, the main facade is marked by a Baroque influence. The bell tower dates from the second half of the 19th century.
Take a harbour walk
Toulon Marina is a relaxing place to visit next to the city centre. Here you can embark on boat cruises, glean fascinating insights into French naval history and see some of today's powerful navy ships. Stroll through the marina and enjoy the picturesque scenery of the surrounding hills and numerous sailing boats. Bring your camera for lots of great photo opportunities. Stop for refreshments at one of the waterside cafés or restaurants.
Admire Genie de la Navigation statue
Genie de la Navigation statue was erected in 1847. It faces the sea and represents the spirit of marine conquest and exploration. While it affectionately got baptised "Cuverville", in memory of an admiral of the same name, it also stands for the light joke of "Cuverville", meaning "bottom towards the city."
Go on your own boat tour
Take a return trip by public boat number 8M to La Seyne departing from Gare Maritime in the harbour area. It’s an easy way to explore the city's naval heritage since Toulon has been the French Navy's base for over 500 years. It’s also a good opportunity to watch the city’s skyline from the sea and admire many yachts and boats in the harbour. Boat number 8M departures are scheduled three times in an hour. It’s a part of the Réseau Mistral public transport network and is widely used by locals and tourists.
Visit Mourillon district
Originally a fishermen’s village, the Mourillon district still boasts original, picturesque architecture. Its daily market, chic little boutiques, many restaurants, and seaside location makes it Toulon’s most coveted quarter. The coastline has seven hectares of man-made beaches, a water-sports centre with many activities for athletes of all levels and ages.
When exiting a bus at Mitre bus stop to explore Mourillon district, check out Fort Saint-Louis on your left.
Check out Fort Saint-Louis
Built at the end of the 17th century at the request of Louis XIV, Fort Saint-Louis served as a cannon tower to protect the harbour from enemy intrusions. It now houses the nautical club of the French Navy. Now you are ready for a walk!
Take the less known path along the coast
It will bring you to the pine tree-shaded bays of Mitre. Stretching from the Mejean bay to Tour Royale tower, via the Mourillon beaches, this gorgeous footpath overlooking the sea waves is several kilometres long. Some parts of the path may be covered with water, and you will have to walk on slippery stones. If you are not ready for that, go back to Mitre when the comfortable walkway ends. I went all the way to La Tour Royale tower and then took the street to the bus stop.By the way, one of the reasons why I went to Toulon was to ride a cable car. Unfortunately, it was not operating at the time of my visit. I hope you will be luckier than me.
Ride the cable car to the top of the Mont Faron
The Mont Faron cable car in Toulon was inaugurated in 1959. Originally built by Louis Valery Roussel, the cable car allowed residents to reach their homes by an airborne line! Now, this unique cable car gives Toulon residents and many tourists access to the summit located about 584 meters above sea level. The cabins can accommodate 17 passengers, including people with reduced mobility.
Toulon has an extensive public bus network. I suggest using public transport and your own feet to explore the city. The day ticket for public transport costs less than 4 euros and also includes rides on public boats. It’s a real treat. Buy your day ticket at a Tabac shop. Bear in mind that very likely the shop assistant will not understand English and you will have to show a picture on your phone for your desired purchase. Remember to stamp your ticket every time when entering the wehicle. Have a great time!
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Author: Anita Sāne
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