The Pyrenees: what to do, what to see



Vue sur le Mont Canigou dans les Pyrénées.
© stevebphotography / Getty Images - Vue sur le Mont Canigou dans les Pyrénées.

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 26 May 2023, updated on 21 April 2024

Between the mountains of the Pyrenees and the valley of the Dordogne, this region boasts so many destinations famous for their unique character. The dizzying number of historical and natural marvels offered by this region seems only a step away from Toulouse, La Ville Rose of pink brickwork and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. With UNESCO World Heritage sites and richly diverse terroir as far as the eye can see, you’re going to love all the “must-sees” and “not to be misseds”! 

Not to miss sights in the Pyrenees

• The Pic du Midi and its astronomical observatory

Accessible by cable car, the Pic du Midi, in Bigorre, soars at 2,877 meters (nearly 1000 feet) above sea level. The summit offers an exceptional panorama of the Pyrenees, thanks to the purity of the atmosphere and the absence of light pollution. The heights were the perfect place to construct an observatory as well as a planetarium.

• The Cirque de Gavarnie

Classified as World Heritage by Unesco, it is one of the largest glacial cirques in Europe, lying between France and Spain in the heart of the Pyrenees National Park. The site is spectacular, with peaks of more than 3,000 meters (1000 feet), and a waterfall of more than 400 meters (1312 feet). It's said that the famous 100 meter (238 foot) breach was carved by Count Roland's sword after the battle of Roncesvalles in 778 AD.

• Lourdes

The city has been a place of pilgrimage since 1858, when the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous. In 2019, a musical will celebrate the 175th anniversary of her birth. The sanctuary is home to many places of worship, including the Grotto of Massabielle and famed pools where pilgrims immerse themselves in hopes of finding grace.

• The Pyrenees National Park

Over 100 kilometer (60 miles), the Park encompasses six charactaristic valleys: - The valley of Aure and Haut Adour, and its limestone cirques - The valley of Luz-Gavarnie, where the highest summits culminate - The valley of Cauterets and its limpid lakes - The Val d'Azun, with pastoral heritage - The valley of Ossau, land of shephards - The Aspe valley, on the way to Santiago de Compostela

• The Ossau National Reserve

If you want to spot the tawny vulture, whose wingspan can reach 2.80 m (nearly 10 feet), head to the National Reserve of Ossau, in the valley of the same name. It is home to the largest French colony of these birds—more than 120 breeding pairs have settled here, and are scientifically tracked through banding, from birth, fledging, to migration.

• The ski resorts (La Mongie, Saint-Lary, Luchon-Superbagnères, Cauterets, Font-Romeu, Les Angles and more)

With around 40 ski resorts, the Pyrenees offer a wide variety of experiences. Barèges-La Mongie, at the foot of the Pic du Midi; Saint-Lary, very popular with families; Luchon-Superbagnères and its 4 slopes; Cauterets and its exceptional snow; Font-Romeu and its sports; and Les Angles, the village resort.

• Mount Canigou

At 2,784 meters (9133 feet), it dominates both the Mediterranean Sea and the plain of Roussillon. Hikers enjoy the 750 kilometers (466 miles) of marked trails snaking between forests, villages, scrubland as well as mountaineous and Mediterranean flora.

Toulouse tourismCarcassonne and its fortified cityThe Pic du Midi and its astronomical observatoryThe pretty hilltop town of Cordes-sur-CielThe medieval town of RocamadourThe Episcopal City of AlbiFigeac, a town of art and historyCahors city centreConques, one of France’s most beautiful villagesThe Great Staircase of Auch

Things to do in the Pyrenees

• Make a pilgrimage to Lourdes

The fervor that reigns in Lourdes is palpable. Nearly 70 masses are held each day in places of worship, and the Basilica of St. Pius X can accommodate 25,000 faithful from around the world!

• Observe the Milky Way at Pic du Midi

To spend a night under the stars, you can book an evening or a night at the summit of the Pic du Midi to visit the planetarium, or gaze at the stars with a telescope from the Charvin dome, sleep in a room in the science center and dream of space. The new space experiences will also reveal the secrets of the sun and cosmic rays.

• Climb the trails of the Gavarnie Circus

From the village of Gavarnie, at 1,300 meters (4265 feet) above sea level, you can hike to the foot of the large waterfall, more than 1,700 meters (5577 feet) above sea level. The road to reach the Breach of Roland is a high mountain path at 2,800 meters (9186 feet), starting from the pass at 2,100 meters (6890 feet). You have to get up early, at sunrise, to earn the most stunning views.

• Find the way to Santiago de Compostela

There is a route that leads to Santiago de Compostela, through the Pyrenees Piedmont. Crossing beautiful landscapes of Occitanie, Béarn and the Basque Country for more than 500 kilometers (310 miles), from east to west, from Carcassonne to Saint-Jean Pied de Port, stopping in Lourdes as well. Lace up your walking shoes!

• Follow a stage of the Tour de France

The Queen of cycling races foresees stages in the Pyrenees—the Col du Tourmalet pass at 2115 meters (6939 feet) of altitude is one of them. In 2019, starting from Tarbes, this stage of the race represents 117 kilometers (72 miles) of effort, a feat worth applauding!

• Slalom between the pines at La Mongie

The 100 miles (62 miles) of slopes on both sides of the Col du Tourmalet form the largest ski area in the Pyrenees, joining the resorts of Barèges-La Mongie. Enjoy skiing in the forest, at 2,500 meters (8202 feet), in the area of Laquette and Lienz Barèges.

• Cheer on a rugby match at Bagnères-de-Bigorre

The Bagnérais stadium was founded in 1912 and has since become a Pyrenean institution. The atmosphere at a men's or women's team is electric, especially in the third half! Prepare your team's song to sing along!

Castles of Cathar countryThe Marciac Jazz FestivalPilgrimage to Lourdes Life of astronauts at the Cité de l’Espace in ToulouseShows at Les Abattoirs in ToulouseThe Albi CathedralThe Cirque de GavarnieThe Moissac Abbey cloistersThe Musée Soulages in RodezWalk part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrims’ way

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